There is a post on my blog already dedicated to Flemish cities of Belgium . But I have decided that this city deserves one single post for itself. Even more, as I have been to Brugge many times, and as always, there is a place to discover something new. With its cobbled streets, crooked bridges, meandering canals and World Heritage-listed medieval buildings, the Belgian city of Bruges is so pretty it’s almost too good to be true. But anywhere where you can drink 12% alcohol beer and get into medieval history has got to be more than just a pretty face. And Bruges is just perfect for a weekend break – easy to get to and explore on foot, and bursting with charming streets, fantastic beers, boutique chocolate-makers and canalside bars.
So let us begin with just a bit of history to get you in the story 🙂 Why? Because Brugge is one big outside museum.
The name probably derives from the Old Dutch for ‘bridge’: brugga.
Bruges was a location of coastal settlement during prehistory: Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements. The first fortifications were built after Julius Caesar’s conquest in the first century BC, to protect the coastal area against pirates. The Franks took over the whole region from the Gallo-Romans around the 4th century. The Viking arrived in the ninth century prompted Count Baldwin I of Flanders to reinforce the Roman fortifications; trade soon resumed with England and Scandinavia. The Golden Age arrived soon: 12th to 15th century.
Bruges became important due to the tidal inlet that was crucial to local commerce which was then known as the “Golden Inlet”. Bruges received its city charter in 12th century , and new walls and canals were built. Soon it became the capital of the County of Flanders and placed itself strategically at the crossroad of the Hanseatic League trading with the south. The new form of merchant capitalism developed and Flanders were leading in it – just some decades after Italian society’s renaissance.
The Bourse opened in 14th century as the first stock exchange in the world and developed into the most sophisticated money market in the 14th century. By the time Venetian galleys first appeared. Numerous foreign merchants were welcomed in Bruges and established their own commercial consulate in Bruges by the mid-15th century. The foreign merchants expanded the city’s trading zones. They maintained separate communities governed by their own laws until the economic collapse after 1700.
This attracted a number of artists, bankers, and other prominent personalities from all over Europe. The new oil-painting techniques of the Flemish school gained world renown. The leaders of this Norther Renaissance and Humanism in painting were Jan van Eyck and maybe Pieter Bruegel (although he comes a bit before in time).
These artists made significant advances in natural representation and illusionism, and their work typically features complex iconography. The painted works are generally oil on panel, or fixed altarpieces in the form of diptychs or triptychs.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood is the relic of the Holy Blood, which was brought to the city after the Second Crusade by Thierry of Alsace, and is paraded every year through the streets of the city. More than 1,600 inhabitants take part in this mile-long religious procession, many dressed as medieval knights or crusaders.
The Church of Our Lady dates mainly from the 13th century. This church is a monument to the wealth, sophistication, taste, and devotion to Catholic religion. In the church you can find amazing Madonna sculpture from Michelangelo.
Remaining still in religious timeframe, inevitable is to mention the quiet sacral place called Beguinage. An architectural complex which was created to house beguines – lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world. They are not nuns though. In most cases, beguines who lived in a convent agreed to obey certain regulations during their stay and contributed to a collective fund.
The Minnetwaterpark is just next to it and together with canals, cobbled stones streets and passages creates even more mystery.
As the Brugge developed thanks to its proximity to the North sea and the tide that was giving peaceful shelter to the trade boats, naturally, Brugge built more and more canals to trade, store and commerce the goods. Today these canals are still in usage – some for the trade and some for the tourist sight seeing purposes. This time, I took a boat too 🙂
On these photos taken from the boat, you can’t miss the tall Belfry – the bigger the better, the nobels would say. The Belfry of Bruges is a medieval bell tower in the centre of the city. One of the city’s most prominent symbols, the belfry formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives, and served as an observation post for spotting fires and other dangers.
Just next to it is an interesting Historium experience that will take you in these times just written here. You become on of the characters of the city of Brugge, assisting great Jan van Eyck in the creation of one of his paintings. But just when things start to develop, your character gets lost in the streets and somehow ends up in the storage.
For the rest, I leave you just to walk and explore. There is many more to see. Like the fish guilde from 15th century next to fish market, possibly the wealthiest family of its times.
As one can see, Bruges is the archetypal Flemish city, but it’s so much more than that. Ancient brickwork and winding canals give the city its nickname “The Venice of the North”. I am not the fan of giving the name of one origin to another origin of itself, so I have to admit: its position as the heartland of Dutch-speaking Flanders gives it an unmistakable identity of its own.
The Hospital of St. John was a medieval hospital in Bruges. It was founded in the mid-12th century. Located next to the Church of Our Lady, the premises contain some of Europe’s oldest surviving hospital buildings. The hospital grew during the Middle Ages and was a place where sick pilgrims and travellers were cared for. The site was later expanded with the building of a monastery and convent. In the 19th century, further construction led to a hospital with eight wards around a central building.
To end this, one has to try local dishes. We left the choice with flemmish carbonade and brugge zor bier – which is pipelined from bars to Brugge brewery. Cute.